Face To Face With A Cicada

Eugene, Oregon, summer, cicada

     Sitting at the glass-topped patio table on the deck in the backyard, I suddenly found myself face to face with a cicada.  At around 2 1/2 " long, it isn't the biggest insect around here - there are some huge dragonflies that come through the yard every now and then - but still, if one of these is hanging around for awhile and looking at you with its big brown puppy bug eyes, you will take notice.

Cicadas can be quite loud, possibly the loudest bugs on the planet.  Back in Colorado, there are some years when there's a lot of them in the trees, singing their love songs, a particularly harsh and incessant grating buzz, non-stop day and night through the summer.  Once I stopped for gas and a burger in a small town near the New Mexico border and there were so many cicadas in the elms, many thousands of them, that you had to yell to be heard over the noise they made.  All the radios and TVs in town were turned way up, and maybe no one was getting enough sleep - these big bugs were driving everybody a bit crazy.

Eugene, Oregon, summer, cicada

This is the first cicada I've seen in Oregon, but I don't usually go looking for them.  As far as I can tell, although they live here, they haven't started doing any mating calls yet, which is just as well.  Maybe these are silent cicadas.  Then again, I don't know much about cicadas, beyond being able to recognize one.  It seems that they have a very unique and complicated life cycle, but so do some of my friends.  If you're at all interested, here's a great website, Cicada Mania, full of probably more information about cicadas then you'll ever need to know.  Who knows, maybe someday you'll be at a party, and the person of your dreams will walk up and want to talk about cicadas.

Eugene, Oregon, summer, cicada

One thing's for sure - a cicada is a very well behaved bug.  This one seemed happy to just hang around, and let me take a few pictures.  It even calmly walked onto a piece of white paper and stood nice and still - the perfect photographer's model.  Mr (or is it Mrs?) Cicada didn't make a big fuss or get terribly excited, and thankfully, didn't want to latch on to my neck and start sucking my blood, like some bugs I can think of.  Possibly it had recently gotten out of its chrysalis, or whatever its previous metamorphic state is called, and wanted to simply sit still for awhile, getting used to its new body.  After a while, it quietly opened up its wings and flew away.  Kind of an interesting few minutes, sitting next to a big grey cicada on a warm summer evening.

Eugene, Oregon, summer, cicada

If you want to see this big bug even bigger, click or tap on any image above.  All pictures taken with a Lumix ZS-25.

Wednesday Bach Blogging: Bart Jacobs & Les Muffatti, Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052

    Bart Jacobs at the organ, accompanied by the Brussels Baroque Orchestra, Les Muffatti, under the direction of Peter Van Heyghen, performing Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052.  This performance of the first, Allegro, movement was recorded in 2013, at the Brussels Cathedral in Brussels, Belgium.

The audio level is low, as is the light exposure on the video, and at first it seems like there's something wrong, but there isn't.  If you have a larger display, go to full screen mode, and if you also happen to have some good speakers there on your desk, or if you have headphones, then turn those way up.  And what happens is, as the volume of the orchestra goes up, so does the ambient sound of the big space they're playing in, and you can actually hear the huge natural reverberation of the cathedral.  At the same time, once you get used to the low light levels, then it's almost like being there in the audience, inside that big dimly lit room, listening to an inspired performance by a very tight and fluid musical ensemble, of one of J. S. Bach's most compelling, powerful, and dark pieces.

There is no evidence that Bach ever performed this harpsichord concerto, composed c. 1734, as a piece for organ and string ensemble, but as Kapellmeister of Leipzig's St. Thomas Church, with its famously majestic pipe organ, as well as being himself a virtuoso organist, he did have the ability to do so.  And it's nice to think that he may have, at least once.

We could have wished for the rest of the concerto, especially the moody and even darker second, Adagio, movement, but it's great that Les Muffatti posted this gem of a video.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Concerto in D minor for Organ and Strings (arr. Bart Jacobs after BWV 1052 & BWV 146) - 1. Allegro

Bart Jacobs, organ

Peter Van Heyghen, direction

Ensemble Les Muffatti:
Violins I : Birgit Goris, Marie Haag, Catherine Meeùs
Violins II : Benedicte Verbeek, Ann Cnop, Laurent Hulsbosch
Violas : Manuela Bucher, Julie Vermeulen
Violoncellos : Marian Minnen, Corentin Dellicour
Double Bass : Benoît Vanden Bemden

Live recording - July 9th 2013 at Brussels Cathedral
Organ : Patrick Collon, 1977

The Maxon Ibanez UE 300 Multi-Effects Pedal

TS-808, TS9, Japan, Chesbro, Top View, IC 4558, History, Pedal, Davies Knob

    One of the best, and possibly the greatest multi-effect unit in the whole history of guitar effects pedals, is the Ibanez UE 300, presumably made by a company called Maxon in Japan during the early 1980s.  Combining a Maxon/Ibanez compressor-limiter, an early version of a Tube Screamer, and the Ibanez stereo chorus effect in one easy to use and fantastic sounding unit, it was usually all a working guitarist in the '80s and '90s needed to handle most any gig.  An added bonus is the external effect loop - plug in one or more older style pedals that don't have bypass switches, such as a vintage wah or fuzz, and any input impedance load related high end roll off is effectively minimized.

Besides JFET stomp switches for the individual effects, there is a master bypass switch, which works well for cutting off a cranked up and effected solo as you step up to the mic for the next verse.  I always thought it would have been a nice idea to have this switch selectable as either a master on/off or an external effect loop bypass, but oh well.  It did do its job well, and often I would have a mondo crazy effects combination for some solos - cranked compressor, Screamer, Sam Ash fuzz, chrome top Vox wah, Space Echo or Guild Copycat, and a Mistress or Ross flanger at full saucer wobble, all going at once, and it was a cool thing to kick them all off instantly before strumming and singing, rather than fiddle with each one or even being forced to think.

On the plus side, the UE 300 is AC powered, so no need to always have fresh batteries on hand, or worry about dead ones.  But on the minus side, it's AC powered, so there's the extra headache of how to get power to the front of the stage, and carrying along a 25 foot extension cord.

The Obligatory "Gut Shot"

TS-808, TS9, Japan, Chesbro, PC Board, Maxon 131621050701A, IC 4558, Pedal

Wow - what a board.  I only have the barest of clues as to what's going on here.  Well, I do know what it all is and does, but I don't like messing with something this complicated, or even thinking about it.  Here's a macro of the Tube Screamer portion:

TS-808, TS9, Japan, Chesbro, PC Board, Maxon 131621050701A, IC 4558, Pedal

Taking off the bottom plate and taking a picture of the insides is all I cared to do, and not do a dis-assembly, so sorry, no shot of the component side of the board.  If you're a chip aficionado you'll have to guess what brand and model of 4558 IC is in there, as well as what type of bounding diodes, capacitor and resistor values, etc.  If it sounds good (which it does), I tend to trust the audio engineering judgement of highly schooled, white lab coated Japanese technicians in these matters, especially those who created such absolutely great sounding, immortal effects such as: 

The Tube Screamer

Ibanez didn't make the first overdrive pedal; there were already others on the market, such as the Boss OD-1, but to many ears used to the sound of a real tube amplifier on the gritty edge, they didn't quite sound "right", maybe a bit harsh and non-musical.  Some players I knew in Colorado in the '70s used an MXR Distortion +, or the made-in-Utah DOD 250 - basically the same pedal design.  With the gain turned down, you could get a fairly usable overdrive sound, and then just reach down and crank the gain knob on either pedal for a nice saturated solo tone.  And then, the Tube Screamer came along, and you could have two pedals set up, and get just the tones you wanted with a couple foot taps.

There has been some recent misconception about what exactly a Tube Screamer is supposed to do, that its original primary purpose was as a booster to push the first gain stage of a tube guitar amplifier into overdrive (making a "tube" "scream", get it?).  Well, yeah, a Screamer is able to do that, and it's a glorious sound, but it was originally created, and marketed as, a device to emulate or replicate the distortion characteristics of a cranked tube amp.  The only reason I know that is because I spoke at some length with a regional distributor's sales rep at what was then the US Ibanez headquarters, Chesbro Music in Idaho Falls, Idaho, soon after the Tube Screamer was introduced in 1979 - we went into a demo room, played the pedal, along with a couple of its competitors, through various amps that were set up, and did some jamming.  I think the rep was practicing his sales pitch on me, but whatever, the pitch worked, and I bought a Screamer on the spot.

I gave that first small button TS-808 to a friend after buying a newer model when they came out, and since then there have been other Tube Screamers in my pedal chain.  And sure, all Screamer models had some minor sonic differences, but nothing that a bit of knob tweaking wouldn't handle, and they all sounded good - the 808, TS9, TS10, TS7, even the little plastic "lady bug" TS5.

As well as into tube guitar amps, I've also used Tube Screamers in front of solid state amplifiers like Yamaha, Roland, and Lab Series, and while those are high quality, good sounding amps to begin with, the Green Box made them even better.  You can even use one as an interface with a PA console - you have to crank the level control to get close enough for a line input, but if you have a Shure matching transformer handy, it can be plugged into a mic input.  And whereas a guitar straight into a console can sound kind of cold and sterile, a Tube Screamer injects a lot of needed warmth into the signal, and the resulting sound is very usable, especially when you're in a pinch because your amp blew up and you don't have a spare.

One great thing for us guitarists back in the '80s, was that for the first time, you pretty much didn't have to worry about lugging around your own big heavy amp if you were just going to a jam or doing an opening show.  Just bring a guitar and a Green Screamer set for minimal drive (9:00 to 10:30 depending on the pickups), a bit of tone roll off, and a small amount of boost on the level pot, and okay! - just about any amp would do, tube or transistor, and it would sound at least good enough, and sometimes really great.

The Screamer section of this UE 300 is as good as any individual Green Meanie I've heard, and I've played through a lot of them, as well as owning a few.  I've also had a few other overdrive pedals, and most of them were good enough and got the job done - the Boss Blues Driver, DOD's Classic Tube, and the Danelectro Daddy-O are all fine ODs, and I especially liked, and owned, Butler's Colorado-made Blue Tube, both the pedal and rack versions.  However, there's something so reassuringly no-brainer about having a Tube Screamer on hand, and if it breaks or gets lost, you can usually find another one quickly, and know you'll have great tone that same night.  And if you can't get a Screamer to sound good, it's either broken or the battery is dead, or it's time to check yourself into rehab.  

And Now, Back To The UE 300

TS-808, TS9, Japan, Chesbro, IC 4558, Rear View, History, Pedal, Davies Knob
TS-808, TS9, Japan, Chesbro, IC 4558, Rear, Label, Fuse, History, Pedal
TS-808, TS9, Japan, Chesbro, IC 4558, Block Diagram, Signal Path, History, Pedal

The above picture shows a cool feature: a block diagram of the signal path through the pedal.  I think more than any other purpose, Ibanez was encouraging the use of the external effect loop here, especially since their chorus really did shine as a last in chain stereo effect.  Outputting the signal into two amps results in really nice swirling 3-D sound; when gigging, I would usually play through a couple of amps, either my own or borrowed ones, or whatever I was working on at the time in my garage amp mod and repair "shop".  For most gigs, it was a Deluxe Reverb, paired with some other similar wattage amp; possibly the most insanely great sound ever was a Super Reverb on the left and a Twin with two of the output tubes pulled, on the right, with a really loud eight piece band with two drummers, a percussionist, and a horn section all blasting away.

The Ibanez Chorus

The Ibanez Chorus effect from the 1980s is somewhat different than the usual Boss chorus ensemble sound, which has become the standard for pedals over the last thirty years or so.  Yes, the Boss chorus sounds great, no doubt, and it's on hundreds of recordings and thousands of stages, and in millions of bedrooms, no arguing with success.  But what is the origin of the term "chorus" when applied to an audio effect?  That's right - the slower speed on a Leslie rotating organ speaker is known as chorus or chorale, and the engineers at Maxon must have worked long and hard at designing their chorus effect, because of any chorus pedal out there, this comes the closest to replicating the sound of a slow-speed Leslie.

And why do I think this?  Because I happen to have a Leslie.  No, the sound isn't exactly identical, but it's darn close - I've done A/B audio testing using two of the same model 12" speaker, one in an open baffle and the other in the Leslie, and yeah, it's way good enough for rock and roll.  Run the chorus-effected amp speaker-out into a Leslie with only the 12" driver, no horn, with the rotor stopped, and now the sound is very close to identical, since the cabinet is the same - it's a very near approximation of the doppler effect of a rotary speaker, except without the sound waves bouncing off the walls of the room.  The rate control on an Ibanez Chorus won't get fast enough to do the burbling high-speed Leslie vibrato, but there's mods out there for that, if that's what you want.

The Ibanez Compressor/Limiter

The compressor section is of course Maxon's early '80s design, and I don't have much to say about it, except it works well, and sounds fine.  Because it has separate Threshold and Attack controls, like a pro studio compressor-limiter, the Ibanez pedal has its share of the usual on-line detractors who are used to a simpler 1 or 2 knob unit, but it's easy enough to operate, and hard to get a bad sound out of.  I just kept the controls at 12:00 and boosted the output level, and that did the trick for evening out and thickening the tone enough for taking slide solos with whatever little glass bottle I happened to have.  Putting both compression controls a bit higher gets you close to a squashed Orange Squeezer kind of tone, good for rapid-fire Telecaster chicken pickin' stuff, especially when paired with a slap back delay with the echo time set to the song's tempo.

External Effect Loop

Probably for the very first time ever, an effects pedal had its own external effects loop.  Most players who saw this feature back in the early '80s thought, "What - why bother? Why not just plug my Fuzz Face or Jordan wah or whatever, before or after the Ibanez?"  However, many of us already knew that if we used some kind of booster box before the rest of an effects chain, capable of at least some volume gain, then hey - suddenly everything sounded a lot better.  The dreaded Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 high-gain amp crusher was a popular (and cheap) box for this purpose, but only if the knob was barely cracked.  If you had a lot of extra cash, you could get an Alembic tube preamp, but almost anything would get the job done - some guitarists used a tape deck preamp (or sometimes the whole deck), or an always-on overdrive pedal as first-in-chain.  For a while I had an old half-rack size UREI parametric, set flat (no EQ) and 50% boost, and that was a great booster.

Back then, we didn't know that this was called "buffering" the signal, and no one called the fidelity loss problem it cured "tone suck", either; all we knew was that it worked.  Having a buffered external effect loop built into the Ibanez UE 300 was nothing short of genius, especially for the time it was manufactured, and it really does help keep the sparkle and chime when using vintage style effect pedals.

Some Knob Settings

TS-808, TS9, Japan, Chesbro, IC 4558, Top View, Davies Knob, History, Pedal

As mentioned earlier, a Screamer's ideal drive knob setting depends on whether your guitar has single coils or humbuckers - slightly higher for lower output pickups, and less for a hot one, but 10:30 or 11:00 is a good starting point.  The chorus settings are for a slow Leslie effect; for running an always-on stereo 2-amp rig, the width knob would be more towards 9:00 to 10:00, for a barely noticeable ambient shimmer, depending upon the amps, and how far apart they were on stage.  It's easy to over-think setting a compressor, but with a pedal-style limiter, you can't go wrong with starting at 12:00 and adjusting to taste.

The knobs have been replaced.  I tend to mess around with all my stuff, sometimes for fun, but in this case for a good reason.  The original small dark knobs with tiny reference lines made it difficult to see the settings sometimes, especially on singer-songwriter backup gigs when at times the only PAR spot was on the singer.  The cream Davies style pointer knobs are a lot more visible, and easier to grab and turn as well.  And being pointers, they can be set by feel in the dark, or by the visually impaired.  Or the chemically impaired.  Here's the originals, and a picture showing the difference:

TS-808, TS9, Japan, Chesbro, IC 4558, Knobs, History, Pedal
TS-808, TS9, Japan, Chesbro, IC 4558, Knobs, Original, Davies Pointer, Pedal

We've Been Together A Long Time

I'd like to say I've had this Ibanez UE 300 since it was new, but I haven't.  It was still in as-new condition in the late '80s, when I spotted it in the back room of the local music store, just minutes after someone had dropped it off there as part of a trade, and I bought it before they could even dust it off and stick a price tag on it.  This thing was gigged, and jammed with, a lot since then, and all of the scratches on it are my own.

Like all Ibanez effects except for the plastic ones, it really is built like a tank - all heavy gauge, over-designed materials, and beating it up didn't do a thing to it.  One day, however, on an outdoor festival stage in the Colorado Rockies, it kind of got a bit water soaked during a sudden thunderstorm, even though the stage was covered.  After it dried out, it only had a weak, barely audible signal, and a lot of that was a static-y hiss.

I replaced the UE with yet another Screamer and a chorus, but never got rid of it.  I would plug it in every now and then, and it would always make the same sad hissing sound; took it to some electronic experts, all of whom were stumped by it, not being able to find a schematic.  A couple of years ago,  mild mannered genius friend David said he'd take a look at it, and a week later I had it back, good as new.  A lot of guitars, amps, and effects pedals have come and gone in my life, but there are a couple musical things that I guess I was meant to keep for the long haul, and this Ibanez UE 300 is one of them.

Click or tap on any photo above to see larger images.